The Library as a Third Place

open libraryThe photo above documents a collage I created in an art workshop at a library. It was a site-specific art session with the theme: “Why I Love The Library.” The tiny sentences on the sides of the pink rectangle read: “It was a cloudy day.” “It was a foggy day.” “It was a sunny day.” “It was a rainy day.” I wanted to convey that like the US mail carriers: library staff deliver services through rain and snow and sleet and hail.

I recommend the library as a “third place” in the community for people with mental illnesses to seek respite, to woodshed in, to attend free programs, to get resume help.

People I’ve created resumes for have gotten job interviews that lead to job offers. I was trained to provide job search assistance for individuals with disabilities. I was most cheered that a woman in a wheelchair wanted to work and did not think it was impossible to do this.

I recommend you read the Gail Backstrom book I’d Rather Be Working, about how people with chronic illnesses can obtain employment and be successful on the job.

At the NAMI book talk in April, my mother turned to the audience from her front-row seat and said, “Chris was a little bullied as a kid. Books were her friends.”

Ever since I could ride my 10-speed bike, I’d cycle to the library to get books to bring home. Or else I would walk there and back when I was in the mood to check out more books than I could store in a bag hung from the bike’s handlebars.

E. Fuller Torrey, MD claims persons with mental illnesses cause a commotion in libraries. I’ve had a job in a library for 15 years, and I can tell you this is not true. We get all sorts of people who come through our doors. As mentally challenged as some of them are, I do not find anything so totally remiss about their behavior that it would warrant evicting them from the premises. Causing chaos is the exception not the rule for individuals who come to the library with emotional illnesses.

Perception is everything: a lot of staff in public libraries don’t have the same open, receptive demeanor that I do with mentally challenged library users.

Yet I accord them dignity and respect because I am a person who crossed over and came back.

I owe a debt to society for my good fortune. I could not in good conscience turn my back on those less fortunate.

I bid peace to all who enter here in the library.

My motto is:

Come right in. It’s a pleasure to serve you.

Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and athlete.

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